School Choice

Common Core Uncommonly Restricts Education Choices

High-pressure, cookie-cutter education for all


Common Core
Common Core

When it was time for my wife and I to pick an education strategy for our son, we were pretty lucky. That's not because we live in an area with "good public schools"—an eternal mantra for some of my friends when they go house-hunting. In fact, the local district public schools are pretty mediocre at best, and they teach in the usual fashion, which works for some kids and not for others. But we have a good selection of charter schools representing a range of education philosophies, a decent Catholic school, and an international baccalaureate school launched by the district to compete with the charters. We also have homeschooling in all of its various flavors, and, in Arizona, unburdened by much in the way of red tape. That's a decent menu from which to choose, in a rural area or anywhere else. Except… much of that menu is at risk of being homogenized and standardized under pressure from new Common Core standards. Those standards, distributed nationally but imposed by state officials, are already changing the way students are taught at my son's charter school.

There's a lot of misinformation about Common Core, up to and including the idea that it's a federally developed curriculum chock full of politicized takes on literature, history or what have you. In fact, it's not federal and it's not a curriculum. Common Core was commissioned by the National Governors Association and the Chief Council of State School Officers to "provide a consistent, clear understanding of what students are expected to learn, so teachers and parents know what they need to do to help them. The standards are designed to be robust and relevant to the real world, reflecting the knowledge and skills that our young people need for success in college and careers," as the mission statement puts it. Adopting or not adopting the standards for public schools is a state decision, and 46 states have done so.

That's not to say the feds aren't playing a role. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan lashes out at critics of the standards as "fringe groups" while his department uses its "Race to the Top" funding to encourage the adoption of Common Core standards. The U.S. Department of Education also plays a major role in designing assessments for Common Core standards. So, while the standards are not federally sourced, they're definitely peddled by D.C.

And those standards are standard. That's the whole idea. They detail what kids are supposed to be learning, grade by grade. Secretary Duncan, after attacking critics of Common Core, dreamily sketched a scenario in which "the child of a Marine officer, who is transferred from Camp Pendleton in California to Camp Lejeune in North Carolina, will be able to make that academic transition without a hitch, instead of having to start over in a widely different place academically."

That's a fine vision of truly standardized factory-style education from sea to shining sea, but not everybody is looking for schools that teach exactly the same thing at exactly the same speed to achieve the same goals. The Montessori approach, for example, has gained wide popularity because it lets students set their own pace for learning material. Not surprisingly, there's a ferocious debate among Montessori advocates over whether they can "align" (the educational term of art for bringing teaching into compliance) with Common Core and still remain true to their educational philosophy. At Montessori Madman, Aidan McAuley asks:

The first question I have is whether a government should create or even suggest what types of content curriculum should include. When a government determines curriculum it is inherently placing more value on some types of content and less on other types. There are two problems with this: 1) It assumes government somehow knows which content will provide the most return to its economic engine in the future (this is impossible to know) and 2) it creates an impersonal culture of education derived from logistics and efficiencies built on the false premise that all children learn in the same way and should know the same things by a certain age. A child is not a product to be manufactured by a government and should not be commoditized as such.

Waldorf is another child-directed educational philosophy favored by families seeking an art-and-aesthetics-driven alternative to the traditional classroom setting. If anything, it's even less of a natural fit with Common Core than is Montessori.

My son's charter school focuses on rigorous academics. Even so, as third grade kicked in this year, so did a lot of tears during homework time. Tony's teacher explained to us that the kids are having a rough time, especially with math, because they didn't just jump up to third-grade lessons and expectations as usual, but are now expected to meet Common Core standards. We may have picked a charter, but it's publicly funded, and so the new standards apply.

The tears weren't too surprising, as it turned out, given so much of the go-team, high-pressure, compete-or-die messaging behind Common Core.

So we sat down to help him with the concepts. And then we started Googling those concepts so we could understand them to explain them to our son. And then we looked up the Common Core standards. States may make adjustments to the standards as needed, although the Arizona implementation (PDF) doesn't look much different than the national model.

"Pre-algebra?" my wife, a pediatrician who deals with children and tracks their physical and mental growth every single day, asked. "I'm not sure third-graders are developmentally ready for this. Their brains may not be able to handle it yet."

But ready or not, my son is held to those tear-inducing standards—the identical standards that bind his friends at the International Baccalaureate school, and the Montessori charters in town, and the district schools, and the Waldorf charter down the road. Forget educational emphases, or philosophical differences over the pace at which different children should learn. The benchmarks will be met, or else.

Writing at redefinED, Cato Institute education analyst Jason Bedrick put the point rather aptly.

Common Core-aligned tests (particularly college entrance exams) will essentially dictate content: what concepts are taught when and perhaps even how. It's as though Apple told app-designers they could make any kind of app they want so long as all the apps perform the same basic function, operate at the same speed, and cost the same amount. Of course, they're welcome to vary the color scheme.

Education Week's Katie Ash pointed out:

"Charter schools throughout the country are coping with myriad challenges in preparing for the Common Core State Standards, an effort that could force them to make adjustments from how they train their teachers to the types of curriculum they use to the technology they need to administer online tests…

Many of the academic, financial, and administrative issues charters face closely mirror those of their regular public school counterparts, including concerns about the high costs of implementing the standards and the challenges of putting the technological infrastructure in place for online testing. Charter advocates have complained for years that they have not received funding comparable to that of regular public schools, which could pose an additional burden.

Plus, questions remain about whether the common-core standards will bolster or hinder the independence and flexibility that charters see as their greatest strengths.

Under the circumstances, "Waldorf," Montessori," "traditional academy" and "IB" risk becoming Coke vs. Pepsi brand names peddling similar products—assuming they can even survive the transition costs.

Private and religious schools, while mostly exempt from legal mandates to adopt Common Core, are also under pressure to toe the line. Some that accept tax-funded vouchers are required to adopt the standards to continue in such programs. Others find that non-Common Core-compliant textbooks are becoming difficult to find. And the biggest motivation might be the move by college entrance exams to test for mastery of Common Core standards.

Is there any refuge left for families seeking an education not driven by one-size-fits-all benchmarks?

Well, many companies that provide homeschooling materials proudly advertise their intent to ignore Common Core, and the names of such companies (as well as those aligning with Common Core) are collected and disseminated by independent-minded activists.

For families that don't care for rigid, cookie cutter standards, the requirements for personalized education in the years to come may resemble those for so much of what matters in life: If you want it done right, do it yourself.

NEXT: California's Legislature Says Hunting Rifles Are 'Assault Weapons' Because...Why Not?

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  1. So how come they’re revamping the schools again? I thought we already had the finest educators working in the finest system that the bureaucrats could concoct?

    1. They decided we weren’t spending enough money on education, of course.

    2. This time they’ve got it right! Just don’t remind anyone of all those previous times they said they got it right, only a teabagger racist would mention such things.

      1. “only a teabagger racist would mention such things.”

        I get it Eduard, you too are a victim. Keep in mind the victims shall inherit the earth,

        1. That’s just an ignorant comment. Eduard wasn’t complaining about the effects on him personally. He was making a sarcastic comment about people who have reasonable objections to this program, but are being tarred as unreasonable.

  2. I’m not so sure that most 3rd grade teachers are ready for pre-algebra

  3. One guy got arrested when he questionned the Common Core in a Maryland school district.
    and Julie Borowski posted a video about this

  4. “toe the line”? Isn’t it supposed to be be “tow the lion”? As I understand the origin of the phrase, in ancient times gladiators who didn’t perform up to standard were demoted from fighting lions to hauling up the lions from animal pens under the Colosseum.

    1. No, it’s “toe the line” as in go right up to, but not over, the starting line.

      1. This is a common misconception. Actually, it’s “Go to Lyon,” a popular tourist slogan in the 1950s.

        1. For all intensive purposes the two are the same–at least as far as my self of steam is concerned.

          1. I hate phonics.

  5. I’m guessing “sound economic logic” isn’t in the standards at all.

    1. That would just be dangerous dear comrade. Why would you even mention such a thing?

  6. We may have picked a charter, but it’s publicly funded

    And staffed with Union brainwashers teachers. And the curricula isn’t that different from other public indoctrination centers.

    You are going to find out that charter schools are nothing more than polishing a turd.

  7. I’m on the fence about Common Core. Setting standards is IMO a function of the Federal government. And it’s clear that this isn’t being forced on everyone regardless of their opinions.

    I think it comes down to
    a) How good are these standards?
    b) How hard is it to get a waiver?
    c) Do they punish schools that go “faster” than the standard?

    On a scale of: 1 to Obamacare, this sounds pretty benign.

    1. It wasn’t even on my radar until I learned (eg, above) that their teachers’ guides encouraged 1st graders to use “emotional language” to lobby their parents for more school funding, and that a parent got arrested and charged with felonies for speaking up at a meeting to promote these standards.

      And a TIME article said how great it was, and how the mean old tea partiers were criticizing it. Because they’re stupid, and because local control of education conflicts with academic excellence.

      That makes me think maybe it’s not such a great idea. If it were a good idea, the people now praising it would be denouncing it instead.

      1. After watching the video above, I agree. I’m almost shocked that someone would attempt to teach that kind of emotional advocacy to 6 year olds! I actually had to go back and double check that it was for 1st graders. I thought the video narrators might be lying to me. But it’s pretty clear that the intended audience for that material is very young children. And the crap is clearly indoctrination.

        They are quite literally teaching 6 year olds to rely on appeals to emotion rather than logic. And furthermore they are emphasizing anger and fear as the emotions to evoke.

        1. this is how all liberals debate, fear and emotion no facts or logic. they will raise an army of self haters and they inturn will get no respect from their students and they will wonder why they can’t control their classrooms, it will be because of this.

    2. Education is not a function of the Federal Government.

    3. I expected to see more support for your position here: taylorism, and what’s good for the factory is good for the school.

      1. That would require consistant inputs (uniform children) or a strenuous purification mechanism to make them uniform before uniform processes can be applied.

        1. “That would require…”

          All that’s required is the belief that this kind of standardization is desirable and beneficial. And that students should live up to them.

          As I expected, I’m seeing more support here for this kind of regime.

          1. As I expected, I’m seeing more support here for this kind of regime.

            I fail to see much support here for this. Personally, I’m technically on the fence. I support the basic idea of a base line standard. However, I’m absolutely against the kind of puerile indoctrination of the sample text book in the video above.

            But I’d say, I’m the outlier here, even being on the fence and almost everyone else is firmly against it. Or am I misinterpreting your comment?

            1. I didn’t see much support for standardization when I posted this, and said as much. I thought there would be more, and a few more supporting comments have trickled in since.

              Standardizing education, it seems, inevitably leads to standardizing students, and teachers too for that matter. Libertarian acceptance of this kind of social engineering shows the limits of its view of the world.

  8. Of course with the lack of real standards at most public schools this shouldn’t come as a surprise. It’s better than what we had before

    1. I have 2 boys that are just starting Common Core math. I’m not much for national standards, but by focusing on topics this curriculum will probably be better at teaching concepts than the old review-everything-every-year technique. And here’s something Hit-and-Runners will love: they have gotten rid of grading on effort! If you get the answers right you get a good grade whether you conspicuously tried hard or not.

  9. At some point we have to have testing and standards. I’m not talking about Common Core laying out exactly what will happen at each grade but surely there has to be a minimum level of skill demonstrated upon high school graduation. How about 8th grade as well? Have all the flexibility you want in between.

    When you look at the rigor of American schools compared to industrial peers, it’s just not that impressive. So we end up playing catchup in our universities which are still the best in the world. I’m not advocating for suicide-inducing Japanese or Chinese standards but we can do a tad better than some of the underwater basketweaving social promotion that’s out there. And yes I know all about AP and college classes in high school. Those are great. I’m talking about the pathetically low standards of non-AP classwork.

    1. I think the focus is on the wrong set of standards. All schools have reasonable academic goals but few in the post secondary promote reasonable behavior, independent thought or critical thinking.

      I think the states should be in charge of determining which type of skill development will best support it’s economies in the long run but the passive approach to child behavior falls apart at adolescence and leads to lower levels of success in life because they simply aren’t able to function as an adult. They’re all left waiting for their trophies and snacks.

      1. The teachers have to have those skills in order to teach them.

        1. Well watch out for those pre-Algebra classes, because it may set the kid on the path to thinking sensibly about Economics.

          “Finish the equation”, when applied to Economic thought, tends towards free market capitalism.

          1. That only works on the dumb statists. The smarter statists will just insist that the “equation” is incomplete and that it needs to factor in SJ “social justice”, TC “tragedy of the commons”, PS “people are stupid” and then at that point it says whatever the hell they want it to say.

  10. I just hope it doesn’t get too much worse before my son gets through school. I don’t want to home school.

    1. ggod luck with that, sincerely

    2. I don’t want to home school.

      Why not? It is a challenge but it is also very rewarding for both parent and the children. Even the most stupid parent (not saying that is you) can do better than the socialist indoctrinators.

      1. I’ve met some extremely well educated people from Eastern Europe, like Russia and Hungary, while I was studying in Taiwan.
        They weren’t home schooled and the notion would never have occured to them to study away from school where they received a government stipend, each month, I believe.

        Still, that’s only my personal experience. I’d be interested in learning more about how you know that the that the stupipest parent can out educate socialist indoctrinators.

        1. I’ve met some extremely well educated people from Eastern Europe, like Russia and Hungary, while I was studying in Taiwan.

          That would be an extremely cherry picked sample, wouldn’t it?

          They weren’t home schooled and the notion would never have occured to them to study away from school where they received a government stipend, each month, I believe.

          You seem to be basing part of your argument against homeschooling by saying he would miss out on “free” government money. Is that what you really meant?

          I’d be interested in learning more about how you know that the that the stupipest parent can out educate socialist indoctrinators.

          I agree, that’s clearly an exaggeration. But since his audience is a group of adults that are quite likely of above average intelligence, as evidenced by what they read and write, he probably didn’t mean it literally.

          1. Nothing was cherry picked. I’m simply recounting my meagre experience of socialist educated classmates I’ve come across over the years. They were exceptionally good students. Never remember discussing why they chose to be educated in schools, stipends certainly didn’t hurt, but it’s worth noting here that big time socialist V.I. Lenin was homeschooled and successfully passed the bar without the benefit of a stipend or law degree.

        2. Sorry I couldn’t respond sooner, I also have to work.

          Primary education is quite simple. Only the people incapable of learning the subject matter called K-6 would be incapable of teaching the same. This isn’t to say they have the basic belief that they can, or should, but the vast majority of adults could do it.

          Home schooling makes no implication of original texts. I have used a number of different books and programs and websites. Even at the high school level, I can usually find Teachers manuals and answers, if I don’t know or remember the material.

          Home schooling provides the thing the indoctrinators praise almost more than any other, small class size. Individual attention is better in most if not all cases. You know what your children know when you home school. When I taught my daughter long division, I made her do quite a bit of it because she wasn’t as proficient as I wanted. So instead of her being placed in the huge collective of “Third Grade” she gets to learn at “her own” pace.

          Another huge plus is that your children are not taught things which are not true. My children’s knowledge of FDR, for example, is probably considerably different than the tiny bit the government “teaches”. As you can imagine, they don’t worship Gaia, either.

  11. Mr Tuccille, thanks for your interest in CC, I do wish that you would research a little more. It is the federal government stepping in a states rights area…as proven by such coercion from the Feds to accept money through ARRA , RTT! And ESEA. Waivers in exchange for the 4 assurances…Also, the states do not own the copy rights to CC, so there is no ability to change, or delete a standard if it is flawed, states can only add 15% (which, in talking to teachers, there is not a lot of extra time in the CC standards to add, let alone slow down to cover a subject the class may be struggling with. Also, if you research a little further into the SBAC agreement, it clearly states, ” it is a combination of standards, CURRICULUM , teacher training, testing, and data collection.” Lastly, I would steer you to look into the FERPA laws that were amended without the consent of congress to allow the invasive data mining….FERPA now supercedes HIPPA, meaning that ALL your family’s medical records are now open to anyone that the Feds calls a “stakeholder” This does have fed finger prints all over it, and the strings attached are going to financially stick it to tax payers once all the FREE money is gone,and we will be left with, as Bill Ayers calls it, “NCLB in drag” a huge, untested, expensive experiment and race to a deeper bottom.

  12. She says, “We need clear goals for…all the states.”

    Does she mean? “We need clear goals controlled and enforced by the federal government.”

    1. if its federally mandated, its shit

  13. We have kids in two high performing, academically rigorous Arizona charter schools (early elementary on up). Each school has a unique school culture and teaching method. Both approach standardized testing as a momentary stall in the usual school business, and then they return to their regularly scheduled programming. Regardless of which standards are used, the schools are still in charge of their culture, philosophy, methods,etc. When questioned by parents, school leaders don’t see much changing, except for adjustments to the technological requirements to administer the tests.

  14. I would think da people dat’s gonna hate this da most are the one’s that share the same accent as the video commentator.

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